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Student Representative Council Executive Elections

It’s time to vote! As you might have already been instructed by the elections committee, your peers, and current SRC members to vote, this piece allows for a quick insight into who is currently running for the three SRC executive positions: President, Vice-President, and Minister of Finance. Okong’o Kinyanjui is running for President, Ava Swanson for Vice-President, and Morgan Baskin for Minister of Finance. All three candidates are running unopposed but have come forward as a block with united vision and goals.

There are three core pillars which are central to their described vision for the 2018-2019 SRC (should they be elected): ADVOCACY, ACCOUNTABILITY, REPRESENTATION.

Among the general topics of student representation, respect, and voice, there exists the need for the foundation of a clear and formalized vision for committee constitution, power of members, and role of committee to develop effective and trusting relationships between the various stakeholders—namely, the students, faculty, staff, executive, and Board. The vision of ensuring students are heard and included in discussions is one that is necessary but also one the promotes accountability to the established standards among stakeholders.

Representing students on the SRC, the three candidates unanimously touched on the fact that the institutionalisation and formalisation of decision processes across the variety of initiatives—from student presence on the Board, representation in committees, to the funding and reimbursement processes—is a gateway to forming trusting relationships that enhance credibility and authenticity for students. The aim to increase procedural thinking, accountability, and engaged responsibilities allows for greater student engagement and acknowledgement of student input importance. This fosters the ultimate goal of having actively engaged students on committees, working groups, and in various relationships who aren’t  tokenized, but rather empowered to participate legitimately and effectively.

Why should we vote for you three rather than non confidence?

Okong’o, Ava, and Morgan are engaged community members, and confidently stated their passion and dedication to the community. Both Okong’o and Ava were on the SRC this past year as Minister of Human Rights and Minister of Arts & Culture respectively. While organizing a plethora of events, Morgan has set the standard for the consistency Quest needs, as exemplified  in organizing one of Quest’s legacy events, Cabaret, for the past three consecutive years. They feel that their experience as both members and leaders of the community have prepared them well to take on the responsibility of speaking and working in the interests of the Quest student community.

Lastly, running as a united block, the executive shares similar visions for the future of the SRC while also retaining very different academic, social, and personal lives, leading to the possibility of maintaining breadth and diversity in their perspectives in their contributions to the SRC.

We present henceforth a short paragraph of the candidates’ outlined potential agenda and vision with a number of footnotes. All the footnotes can be found at the end of the article and include much more detail as to the meaning and goals of the running members.

Okong’o Kinyanjui

As a current second-year student, Okong’o is running for President of the SRC. Being both a student and the current SRC Minister of Human Rights has allowed him to see different opportunities for the growth and development of the community, the student body, and the school.

From the three core pillars, there is a particular motivation for increased representation of African Studies and Indigenous Studies scholars at Quest,¹ which would not only allow for students desiring to engage with this material to acquire the proper academic setting, but also live as a push to developing a comprehensive approach to the liberal arts which we so often talk about. As of today, the foundation program includes three mandatory Life Sciences courses but lacks required courses to develop Quest’s original unofficial motto of being the place for “Institutionalized Revolution,” these being courses on critical race theory or challenging power dynamics and oppressive systems throughout history.

Okong’o has a vision for greater transparency and accountability by having a student representative on the Board and establishing trusted relationships with the highest level of power at the university². In tandem with power relations and decision making processes, Okong’o brought up the fact that today the board tries to push a lot of work down into committees who do the research and fieldwork on particular topics. These committees are the exact space where students, multiple ones, rather than the singular one present on the Board, can have agency and ability to promote students’ interests and motivations. This leads to the main issue Okong’o sees in our current system, the intrinsic mistrust and lack of students’ voice and acknowledgement on the committees³.

As the last point for Okong’o’s candidacy, he stresses the need to formulate a long-term SRC vision that is written down and abided by for several SRC generations to ensure continuity, consistency, and a unified student voice when interacting and liaising with faculty, administration, and other stakeholders.

Knowing Okong’o, a question many within the student body harboured and feared was how was Okong’o going to survive the 2018-2019 academic year. Okong’o gave us direct assurance that as a symbol to his dedication and passion for the SRC, “next year, I will not work on legacy events (i.e. Our_Futures, TEDx, or the Power, Race & Privilege Symposium), I will only work on SRC run events (i.e. Destination Quest).”

As a closing statement, “I believe that if we want to make a change in an institution that will exist for another 100 years, we need to change the frameworks now before they get institutionalized.” We need continuous active members of the community to attend, be involved, advocate, be accountable, keep others accountable, and ensure adequate representation in every sense of the word.

Ava Swanson

Ava is a third-year student who quickly got to the point as to how she would envision herself as the Vice-President by stating, “I’m the Joe Biden of Quest.” Being the Minister of Arts & Culture on the current SRC, Ava loved the work and possibilities she had, but now wants to transition to a grander mandate with more breadth and possibilities, such as having a student representative on the Board.

Running for Vice-President, Ava hopes to develop and work closely on issues that she sees as of great importance for our future. These include getting student representation on the Board and in the process of monetizing Quest land. Envisioning a flexible role as the Vice-President, Ava would like to seize the task to not only advocate and represent the students, but also sees her role as Okong’o’s right hand, working in tandem. As part of working with Okong’o she wants to legitimize the trust between faculty, administration, and students. Echoing the vision for the students’ need for improved relationships with the other university bodies, Ava wants to ensure that students are listened to and taken into account whilst being retained accountable.

Merging her academic interests of social justice with the SRC and Quest dynamics, Ava hopes to fully engage with the systems of power in place at Quest. Making large-scale change is very hard, but nevertheless, Ava has cared and continues to do so. Starting small-scale and working within the local community is the groundwork to developing long-term and effective systemic changes. Ava would like to see greater student accountability and passion with where and what the community and  university are moving forward with⁴.

Morgan Baskin

Third-year student and candidate for the Minister of Finance, Morgan has been an active community member throughout her time at Quest.  She has worked on Cabaret over her 3 years and thus holds a bit of an outsider’s perspective in comparison to Okong’o and Ava. Her passion for the SRC lies within reworking its financial structure and processes moving forward.

Morgan’s agenda for being on the SRC next year includes planning for the incorporation of the SRC as an autonomous body to formalising a more transparent reimbursement process. The need to be recognized as a legitimate entity is one that is primordial within the students’ relationships with faculty, administration and external stakeholders. Echoing the consistent need for representation, accountability and advocacy.

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Extra detail and information.

  1. Representation

According to Okong’o, in past years there has been a serious lack of representation in African Studies and Indigenous Studies scholars at Quest. Although the current community, as well as alumni, have consistently expressed their need and desires for classes and tutors from these backgrounds, little has been done. Over the last couple of years, initiatives have been put forth but have not come to fruition due to a variety of circumstances (i.e. under Peter’s presidency the push for the inclusion of First Nations as both tutors and scholars as well as students withered with his and other faculty’s departure).

  1. The Board of Governors

Board accountability and transparency are coming up as a possibility and now must remain a fixed goal for this upcoming year. Okong’o saw the meeting of March 2nd as very trying for everyone, but conducive to a net positive outcome which is beneficial and necessary for both the students and Board to hear what they have to say to each other. To ensure such continues and develop into a sustainable relationship, Okong’o sees two major conditions to be met. Firstly, the Board meeting minutes are to be published, and secondly, there is to be a Student Representative on the Board with same effective voting power but not incurring the full liability. As a note on student presence on the Board, Okong’o wants us to also keep in mind that many of the Board decisions are based on ensuring the continued existence of Quest and are not, adversely to many’s impressions, targeting parts of the student body or trying to make money through their membership.

  1. Dynamics existing in current committees.

The current state of committees and working groups are plagued by ineffectiveness, lack of collaboration, and a lack of trust between the faculty and administration in regards to the students. There appears to be a belief that the students present cannot be trusted with confidential and sensitive information. Finally, there is the perception that students cannot display and maintain objective reasoning within their positions on the committees.

Okong’o’s past experience on the Diversity & Equity committee, alongside others and debriefs with different SRC members’ experiences with faculty and administration, have highlighted the contrast of how different committees work and how much respect, credibility and voice are given and entrusted to the students. The large discrepancies in the faculty and staff ability and willingness to listen, then take into account student voices in the committees, are a very worrying aspect for Okong’o as Quest continues to grow.

As Okong’o describes it, there are no formalized expectations for the student’s involvement in terms of voting power and responsibilities when being present on a committee or working group, rather it is usually at the discretion of the leading members of the committee (i.e. faculty or administration) as to the value and amount of student ideas and input.

In regard to access of information about the different existing committees, as of now, there is no centralised information available where one can find out which committees do in fact exist, what their purposes are, and who is sitting on these. The D&E committee is establishing a map, and Okong’o would like to include this as his presidential project to ensure that no more committees are established, but rather that the number of existing ones are well governed with students voices taken into account as well as supporting faculty so they are not stretched too thin.  The strain placed on faculty by being required to sit on multiple committees and experience stretched commitments can be solved, according to Okong’o. He believes that by utilizing the students’ time, energy, and motivation to conduct change and participate in decision making within committees and working groups, students would be put to better use. This allows them to carry more responsibility and understanding, all while relieving some work from faculty.

On the long-term, Okong’o sees the importance of  creating a formal definition and institutionalized expectation of committee roles and processes for all participating stakeholders.

  1. Student Involvement

Ava sees this year’s SRC elections with three candidates each running unopposed for the executive positions as speaking to the daunting image of the SRC and the potential apathy of the Quest population. There is a need for students to feel compelled to be participate in SRC in one manner or another to achieve a coherent and informed student body which can effectively communicate with  other university groups. In concrete terms and example, Ava would like to reinstate open discussion SRC forums to ensure the student body is aware and critical of what the SRC and university is doing in moving forward. (For the younger half of the student body, these forums would take place in the atrium during lunch and SRC members would do elevator pitches as to what was happening and what students could do to get involved!)  

  1. Student Fees

According to Morgan, the SRC does not have an income problem as we just saw  we have ample revenue, but rather a spending problem; we do not necessarily spend too much, but rather do not know how and why we are spending the money.

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